Legendary Jazz Hammond Organist Dr. Lonnie Smith Dead At 79
Dr. Lonnie Smith, the Hammond B3 organ virtuoso whose work in jazz and funk was hugely influential, has died. According to a statement from Blue Note Records, his label, Smith died of pulmonary fibrosis at his home in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida yesterday. Smith was 79.
Dr. Lonnie Smith was born into a musical family in Lackawanna, New York, outside Buffalo. He got his first Hammond B3 organ from a local music-store owner, and he started performing at the Buffalo club Pine Grill after serving in the Air Force. Eventually, Smith moved to New York and joined George Benson’s quartet in 1966. Smith played on some classic Benson albums in the late ’60s. In 1967, Smith also released his debut solo album Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ. Also, both Smith and Benson played on Lou Donaldson’s 1967 hit Alligator Boogaloo.
In the late ’60s, Smith formed his own band, recording a few albums for Blue Note Records and then for a series of independent labels. In the ’70s, Smith adapted the “Dr.” as part of his name — it’s not a result of any kind of degree — and started wearing his signature turban. Over the years, he worked with people like Marvin Gaye and Etta James, and his style of funky instrumental jazz experienced a resurgence in the ’90s and ’00s. Rap producers sampled Smith’s records on tracks like a Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” and Buggin’ Out,” Madvillain’s “Figaro,” and Drake’s “One More Time.”
Smith returned to Blue Note Records in 2016, and he was named an NEA Jazz Master shortly afterwards. He recorded with artists like the Roots and Robert Glasper. Earlier this year, Smith released his final album Breathe, which featured Iggy Pop on covers of songs like Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman,” Timmy Thomas’ “Why Can’t We Live Together?,” and Smith’s own “Move Your Hand.”
Below, listen to some of Smith’s work.